Home » NRF Awards » A-Rated Researchers

A-rated researchers are unequivocally recognised by their peers as leading international scholars in their respective fields, for the high quality and impact of recent research outputs. Acquiring an NRF rating generates considerable acknowledgement and respect for the individual researchers as well as their institutions.

  • Material and Process Synthesis Research Unit
    University of South Africa

    Professor Glasser has focused much of his chemical engineering research in the areas of kinetics, thermodynamics, modelling and optimisation. More recently he and his team have solved a longstanding problem on chemical reactor optimisation; have devised a method for making distillation and membrane systems more efficient; and are using thermodynamics to make chemical process designs more effective and efficient (e.g. less carbon dioxide emissions). He obtained his BSc in Chemical Engineering from the University of Cape Town and his PhD from Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine in London. He has received a number of awards including the Bill Neale-May Gold Medal from the South African Institute of Chemical Engineering (SAIChE) and the ASSAf Science for Society Gold Medal.

  • Department of Pathology
    University of Cape Town

  • Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics
    University of Cape Town

  • Evolutionary Studies Institute
    University of the Witwatersrand

  • National Institute for Communicable Diseases
    National Health Laboratory Service/University of the Witwatersrand

  • Gender and Health Research Unit
    South African Medical Research Council

  • School of Mathematics
    University of the Witwatersrand

    Obtaining his Master’s, Doctoral and post-doctoral degrees from Kiev Shevchenko University in the Ukraine, Professor Yevhen Zelenyuk has focused much of his research in the areas of topology, algebra, and combinatorics. In the last eight years, he has published more than 30 articles in peer-reviewed journals such as the Transactions of the American Mathematical Society, Advances in Mathematics, and Fundamenta Mathematicae, and published one book. Prof Zelenyuk has worked as a Senior Lecturer at the Lutsk Industrial Institute in the Ukraine; Senior Researcher at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine’s Institute for Applied Problems of Mechanics and Mathematics; and Associate Professor at Kiev Shevchenko University. He later moved to the University of the Witwatersrand, where he is currently a Research Professor.

  • Institute for Intelligent Systems
    University of Johannesburg

  • Department of Biological Sciences
    University of Cape Town

  • Department of Human Resource Management
    University of Pretoria

    Professor Stella Nkomo is a thought leader in the areas of race, gender, power and inequality. She obtained her BS degree in business education from Bryant College in Rhode Island in 1973 and obtained a MBA from the University of Rhode Island, before completing her PhD in Human Resource Management at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She has held teaching positions at universities in North Carolina, Rhode Island, and South Africa, was Deputy Dean for Research and Postgraduate Studies, and currently holds a special appointment as a Professor in the Department of Human Resource Management at the University of Pretoria. She published 17 articles in top journals as well as 11 book chapters in the last eight years and served as Associate Editor for the British Journal of Management and Organisation.

  • Department of Botany and Zoology
    Stellenbosch University

  • School of Pathology
    University of the Witwatersrand

  • Department of Physics
    University of the Western Cape

  • Faculty of Education
    University of the Free State

  • Department of Biological Sciences
    University of Cape Town

  • School of Public Health

    University of the Witwatersrand

    Professor Derk Brouwer started his professional career in the field of Occupational Hygiene in the Netherlands. He obtained his PhD in Human Life Sciences in 2002 from the University of Utrecht. His major research interests over the last decade are exposure measurements strategy and nanomaterial safety, which earned him considerable international recognition, resulting in invitations for keynote and plenary presentations across the globe. He initiated and chaired a series of workshops on International Harmonization of Exposure Strategies for Nanomaterials.  From 2009 and 2015, he published 26 articles, one book, two book chapters, and two technical/policy reports. He was the first EU co-Chair of the EU-US Communities of Research Risk Assessment of nanomaterials. He is currently the Chair in Occupational Hygiene at the University of the Witwatersrand.

  • As a phytomycologist, Professor Crous’ main interest lies in the evolution and phylogeny of plant pathogenic fungi, especially Dothideomycetes, Diaporthales and Hypocreales.

  • Professor Xia’s research interests include non-linear feedback control, observer design, time-delay systems, hybrid systems, modelling and control of HIV/AIDS, control and handling of heavy-haul trains and energy modelling and optimisation.

    He is the Director of the Centre of New Energy Systems at the University of Pretoria and the National Hub for the Postgraduate Programme in Energy Efficiency and Demand Side Management, and the incumbent of the Exxaro Chair in Energy Efficiency. He obtained his PhD degree at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics in 1989.

    He has held a number of visiting positions at universities in France and China, is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, an Elected Fellow of the South African Academy of Engineering, and an elected member of the Academy of Science of South Africa.

  • Professor Willem Visser’s research is focussed on finding bugs in software. More specifically he works on the probabilistic analysis of programs, a novel combination of symbolic analysis and model counting to allow precise reasoning about the reliability of software. He is probably best known for his work on the Java PathFinder (JPF) model checker project and Symbolic PathFinder (SPF).

    Before joining Stellenbosch, he was working at the Research Institute for Advanced Computer Science at NASA Ames Research Center, where he was the Area Lead for the Reliable Software Engineering group.

    He has been the co-program chair for the International Conference on Automated Software Engineering (ASE) in 2008, and, for the International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE) in 2016. He is the first academic from Africa to be given the honour to chair ICSE, the largest academic conference in Software Engineering.

  • Professor Mizrahi is internationally recognised for her research on the biology of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, with a view to contributing to the development of new tools to control TB - a devastating disease that claims 1.4 million lives a year across the world and a leading cause of death in South Africa. Her contributions have been in both fundamental, as well as applied areas of TB research. Her research on mycobacterial physiology and metabolism has significantly advanced our understanding of the biology of M. tuberculosis, with specific relevance to TB drug resistance and TB drug discovery.

  • Professor Noakes’ research has not only challenged established dogma in the area of exercise and sports training, but also broken new ground in our understanding of human physiology and endurance.

    His work on the Central Governor Theory of Fatigue during Exercise, which posits that the brain regulates exercise, controlling physical activity so that its intensity cannot threaten the body’s homeostasis by causing ischaemic damage to the heart or other organs, led to a series of articles in the British Journal of Sports Medicine and changed our understanding of exercise regulation.

    Professor Noakes has supervised or co-supervised a large number of graduates in areas such as sports medicine, exercise science and physiology. He founded the UCT/MRC Research Unit for Exercise and Sports Medicine, and co-founded the Sports Science Institute of South Africa.

  • Professor Paul van Helden has a wide interest in many fields of tuberculosis, including genetic host susceptibility to the disease as well as the aetiology, molecular epidemiology, immunology and diagnosis thereof, as well as in animal tuberculosis. He is the Head of the Department of Biomedical Sciences, Director of the MRC Centre for TB Research and Director of the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence in Biomedical TB Research.

    He initially completed a degree in biochemistry, holds a PhD in protein (histone) sequencing, and also completed a post-doctoral period at the Roche Institute in New Jersey.

  • Professor Norman Owen-Smith’s broad research goal has been to develop an ecological understanding that is sufficiently reliable to applications in conservation, particularly for large mammalian herbivores and their interactions with vegetation in African savanna ecosystems. He is especially interested in interrelationships of the behavioural ecology of resource acquisition with population dynamics and ecosystem processes.

    He has produced three books, including Megaherbivores (Cambridge 1988), and Adaptive Herbivore Ecology (Cambridge 2002). He maintains an overall h-index of 44, and his publications have received an average of 650 citations per year. He is also a regular reviewer for a wide range of journals.

  • The research undertaken by Professor Bennett and his team focuses on ecology, animal physiology and behaviour. He has investigated the ecological and physiological factors that affect the control of reproduction and the evolution of sociality. His investigation into cooperative breeding in mammals is conducted from a variety of perspectives. The strength of this multi-faceted approach has led to an integrated understanding of reproductive suppression in mole-rats, to a level that has not been achieved for any other taxon. His research has set the benchmark for our understanding of the phylogenetic and ecological constraints that regulate reproductive success and social evolution in mammalian species.

  • Professor Beukes is a field geologist, specialising in sedimentology and stratigraphy, with emphasis on understanding the origin of iron and manganese ore deposits and the nature of surface environments on early earth, which includes the history of atmospheric oxygen and climatic change in the middle Archean to early Paleoproterozoic. He has worked extensively on iron and manganese formations all over the world, the genetic and sequence stratigraphy of siliciclastic strata of the Witwatersrand and Pongola basins, depofacies in early Precambrian carbonate platform successions, early Precambrian laterite profiles and paleosols, detrital zircon age provenance of the Cape-Karoo succession, and the nature of post-Gondwana land surfaces and associated soil profiles.

  • Professor Feast's current fields of interest include the composition, structure and evolution of our own and nearby galaxies; the use of variable stars to establish distances in the Universe; and mass-loss from stars.

    He is quite possibly the only academic to have published papers in Nature 66 years apart, is listed in the international Who's Who, has had a minor planet named after him, and has represented South African astronomy at the highest international level. He is an editor of one of the main international astronomical journals.

    His work on the brightest stars in our neighbour galaxies, the Magellanic Clouds, was a crucial step in our understanding of stellar evolution, and even today scientific literature still refers to his early work, although published over 50 years ago.

  • Professor Cotton is an internationally acclaimed specialist in the field of paediatric infectious diseases with extensive experience in managing HIV-infected children. He has led the Children's Infectious Diseases Clinical Research Unit (Kid-Cru) team in a number of randomised clinical trials in children, including two studies on antiretroviral therapy (ART) strategy and isoniazid prophylaxis and antiretroviral (ARV) pharmacokinetics in HIV-infected children.

    He completed a three year fellowship in paediatric infectious diseases at the University of Colorado-Denver, and also conducted laboratory-based research on apoptosis in paediatric HIV under the supervision of Dr Terri Finkel at the National Jewish Centre for Respiratory Diseases and Immunology. On return to Stellenbosch University, he completed a PhD on the role of apoptosis in paediatric HIV infection. He has since been conducting a number of multicentre trials focusing on Tuberculosis (TB) and HIV in children.

  • For the past 24 years, Professor Lynn Morris has been researching the virological and immunological aspects of South African HIV-1 subtype C infection, making significant contributions to our understanding of how the HIV antibody response develops. HIV vaccine development is now a major focus of her research and she is responsible for performing neutralising antibody assays on human clinical trials conducted in South Africa. She heads the HIV Virology Section at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases and holds a joint appointment as Research Professor at the University of the Witwatersrand, where she also completed her undergraduate studies.


  • Professor Barbour developed an interest in the chemistry of the organic solid-state during his PhD and postdoctoral years. He heads a Structural Chemistry Laboratory at Stellenbosch University where he continues to explore the structure-function relationships of new materials.

    His work is of a fundamental nature and is aimed at furthering general understanding, at the molecular level, of important issues that impact directly on new technologies for a sustainable future. This is relevant to the development of new materials for a cleaner environment.

  • Professor Manderson is known for her work in medical anthropology, social history and public health. She has played a leading role in training and research in inequality, social exclusion and marginality, the social determinants of infectious and chronic disease, gender and sexuality, immigration and ethnicity, in Australia, Southeast and East Asia, the Solomon Islands, Ghana and South Africa. Her broad interests extend to interdisciplinary collaborations in the social and biosciences, humanities and creative arts, for social justice, human rights, and sustainability.

  • Professor Helmut Prodinger is one of South Africa’s and the world's foremost researchers in combinatorics. His work has also greatly improved understanding of the asymptotic properties of digital search trees by introducing novel techniques such as the Mellin transform to the subject.

    He has contributed greatly to the mathematical community through student supervision and collaborations with young researchers all over the world. He has published over 300 articles in peer-reviewed journals and maintains an h-index of 33, which is remarkably high in Mathematics. He serves on various conference programme committees as well as the editorial boards of some of the leading journals in his field, such as Theoretical Computer Science.

  • Professor Gerald Nurick has been working in the field of impact dynamics for over thirty years. His work in earlier years focussed on inelastic deformation of metal structures and over the years has moved to structural failure, effects of buried explosives, confined blasts, laminated and sandwich structures.

    He was responsible for the establishment of the well-respected and very successful Blast Impact Survivability Research Unit (BISRU), which received accreditation as an official University Research Unit in 2003.

    He has developed interactions and collaborations around the world, and has frequently been invited to visit and lecture overseas. His has been an external examiner for PhD dissertations in Australia, Belgium and Sweden.

  • Inspiring postgraduate mathematicians and connecting the South African and global mathematics community at the highest level is a key focus for Distinguished Professor Luca, one of the world’s leading authorities on number theory and analysis.

    Number theory, sometimes called ‘higher arithmetic’ is a vast field of mathematics that includes the study of the properties of whole numbers. It is one of the oldest mathematical pursuits, dating back 2500 years to a mathematician called Diophantus of Alexandria. Although situated in the field of theoretical mathematics, aspects of it are providing answers to real world problems in a number of fields, including digital communication, computer technology, secure coding of banking transactions and cryptology.

  • Professor De Wet’s research examines the legal consequences that the exercising of public power by international organisations such as the United Nations and the African Union have for states and for those living in their territories. This includes the problems that these states face in implementing binding decisions of international organisations while giving due effect to other international obligations and constitutional principles of fundamental importance.

  • Professor Emeritus Lewis-Williams focused his research efforts on the areas of rock art, cultural heritage and the rights of the San people of southern Africa. He developed methods for the interpretation of sophisticated San rock art, a significant part of South Africa’s heritage. He is recognised as the father of rock-art archaeology the world over, and his work remains the most seminal in all endeavours to contribute to the understanding of rock art within archaeology.

    He conducted his research in the Drakensberg, studying rock paintings. The interpretation of the rock paintings elsewhere was, as a result, based on the methodology he developed. He has a profound command of the now-almost extinct /Xam language spoken by the San people, and was invited by former President Thabo Mbeki to translate the South African national motto into the /Xam San language.

  • A prolific writer and an internationally acclaimed scholar in the field of comparative religion, Professor David Chidester is known for his high level of reflection on theory and method in the study of religion and the study of South African religions. Placing South Africa at the centre of the history of the study of religion, his research on representations of African religion under colonial conditions and in imperial mediations has been influential in international debates about the nature of religion and the study of religions.

  • Professor Craig Packer is an ecologist. His research interests include ecology of infectious diseases, ecosystem processes in African savannahs, and conservation strategies for mitigating problem-animal conflicts. His research on sport hunting of African lions has led to new policies and legislation in Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

  • Professor Claire Penn is a speech and language pathologist with a deep interest in rural Africa. She is one of the world leaders in the field of linguistics, sign language, child language, aphasia, head injury and research ethics. Her interest in the complexities of human communication, especially in intercultural contexts, has seen her produce ground-breaking research.

    She currently holds honorary professorial appointments at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and at Edith Cowan University in Australia. She received the Order of Mapungubwe (Silver) in 2007 from President Thabo Mbeki for her contribution to her fields of specialisation. In 2008 Penn was named Shoprite Checkers / SABC 2 South Africa Woman of the Year for Science and Technology, and she was the joint winner of the DST Distinguished Woman Scientist Award in 2010.

  • Professor Chris Reason’s main research focus is on climate variability and change in the southern hemisphere and the role of the oceans in driving this change.

    To date, he has published 191 journal articles in various fields of climate, physical oceanography and meteorology and has graduated 60 MSc or PhD students, mostly from South Africa or other African countries.

    Reason was a lead author on Chapter 9, Working Group 1 (published in 2013) of the Fifth Assessment Report of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – a major report that assesses scientific, technical and socio-economic information concerning climate change and is produced by thousands of authors, editors and reviewers across the globe.

  • Professor Feldman’s research interest focuses on community-acquired pneumonia, particularly pneumococcal pneumonia. In addition to being part of large international clinical collaborations recruiting cases of community-acquired pneumonia, he has contributed to basic research studies, investigating the effects of various pneumococcal virulence factors on human ciliated epithelium and host immune cells, and the effects of macrolide antibiotics on pneumococcal growth and expression of virulence factors.

    He is a member of several national and international societies, including the South African Thoracic Society, for whom he has served as President twice. He is also a member of the Executive Committee of the Infectious Disease Society of Southern Africa. He has served on a number of Committees of the American Thoracic Society, some of which are considered leadership positions, and is a Fellow of the American College of Chest Physicians.

  • Professor Hewitson is the South Africa National Research Chair on Climate Change at the University of Cape Town (UCT).  Over the last 24 years he has focused his career on exploring regional climate variability and change over Africa. Building on personal interests and broad research activities around regional climate change, he has grown the Climate System Analysis Group (CSAG) at UCT with a research profile that ranges from climate modelling to regional climate projections for impacts and adaptation, decision making and policy.  CSAG is now the largest research group in Africa with an explicit focus on climate change.

  • Professor Mayosi has made significant original contributions to knowledge in the fields of cardiology and genetics. The discovery of a new biological pathway (mediated by fam111B protein) that leads to fibrosis, and the pan-African Investigation of the Management of Pericarditis (IMPI) trial of immunotherapy in tuberculous pericarditis represent his major scientific work to date.

  • A major figure in the fields of African history, politics, and social science, Professor Mbembe is widely regarded as one of the most important public intellectuals writing about contemporary African and global phenomena in the world today. His research investigates the “postcolony” that comes after decolonization. He is especially interested in the emergence of “Afro-cosmopolitan culture”, together with the artistic practices that are associated with it. He has also critically explored the notion of Johannesburg as a metropolitan city and the work of Frantz Fanon.

    The central focus of his work is to identify societies that recently emerged from the experience of colonization and the violence that is the main characteristic of this experience. The goal of his work is to change the perception of Africa and to move away from the dead-end of postcolonial theory to a more dynamic way of thinking that will take into account the complexities of post-colonial Africa.

  • From looking at inhomogeneity in the different scales of the Universe, to studying the nature of primary emotional systems in the human brain, Professor Ellis’ work has opened many new doors of knowledge. He obtained an A-rating in 1984, the first year of the NRF Rating System, and has managed to retain this rating to the present day. 

  • Professor Cleymans contributed considerably to the area of plasma and particle physics with particular focus on relativistic heavy ion collisions. His current research work focuses on the phase diagram separating nuclear matter from quark matter, and exploring areas of high baryon density. He has held an NRF A-rating since 1985. 

  • An astronomer for more than 60 years, Professor Warner has dedicated much of his research to the study of new and unusual phenomena. His interest in the area of the physics of compact stars and binaries, has broadened the understanding of pulsating white dwarf stars and interacting binaries such as cataclysmic variable stars. 

  • Professor Cowling has established a reputation as a world renowned vegetation ecologist and conservation scientist. During his 35 year career as a professional botanist, he and his colleagues have conducted ground-breaking research in community ecology, plant diversity and evolution, conservation science and palaeoecology. 

  • Professor Bond is an ecologist with broad interests in the processes most strongly influencing vegetation change in the past and present, including fire, vertebrate herbivory, atmospheric CO2 and climate change. He was recently ranked by Thomson Reuters as one of the top 3 200 most influential researchers around the globe. 

  • Professor Van Onselen’s career has taken him across a wide swathe of social science, from his early research into labour repressive structures in the southern African mining industry, to more recent work on the nature of social banditry in the region which looks at crime as politics. 

  • Professor Reddy’s research has broadly focused on the realm of mathematical modelling and analysis, as well as the development of approximations and associated algorithms. He has made significant contributions to the theory of plasticity and the development of stable and convergent mixed finite element methods. 

  • As theologian, Professor Van Oort is best known for his study of the gnostic world religion of Mani; the Gospel of Judas; and the church father Augustine, which have proved important for many Africans, as Augustine’s African descent has provided a sense of identification, illuminating a deeper understanding of this field. 

  • Professor Solms has dedicated his career to understanding the phenomena of dreams within the field of neuroscience. He is best known for his discovery of the forebrain mechanisms of dreaming, and integration of psychoanalytic theories and methods with those of modern neuroscience. 

  • Professor Mesthrie’s work focuses on the significance of sociolinguistics in understanding heritage, culture and social change in a multilingual society. Sociolinguistics offers tools to examine interactions between different languages, and the degree of social change occurring in society. 

  • Professor Johnson’s research has opened up new areas of understanding, particularly of pollination systems and floral specialisation in the South African flora, and how plants attract and utilise pollinators such as insects, birds and rodents, as well as of the reproductive ecology of invasive plant species. 

  • Professor Hofmeyr’s work has been concerned with African literature and its global role, and she has established herself as a leading scholar of world literature. Over the last decade, she has turned her attention to the Indian Ocean world, a strategic arena in which Africa’s futures will be shaped. 

  • Professor Henning’s research interests are in the field of combinatorics. He is regarded a world leader in graph theory and the concept of domination theory in graphs. He has obtained several important results on total domination in graphs that appear very difficult to obtain, using purely graph theoretic techniques. 

  • Broadening the understanding of the mechanisms of desiccation tolerance in plant tissues has been the overarching theme of Professor Farrant’s work. Her research aims are to biotechnologically improve drought tolerance in crop species of relevance to food security in Africa. 

  • Professor Bateman’s major research interests include the pharmacology and management of asthma, chronic obstructive airways disease, community based interventions to improve the care of patients with chronic respiratory diseases, and tuberculosis. He was the founder of the University of Cape Town Lung Institute.  

  • Professor Wilkinson has established an enviable track record in the study of infectious diseases, particularly Tuberculosis (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). He has shed considerable light in areas such as TB-HIV drug interaction and early detection of treatment response. 

  • Professor Whitelock’s research into stellar evolution, galactic structure and the stellar content of Local Group galaxies, has helped to broaden the frontier of astronomy worldwide. She has taken special interest in how pulsating red giants can be used as distance indicators, helping to establish the distances of a various galaxies and to study the structure of our own. 

  • Professor Walker’s research focuses on human development, understood as the expansion of people’s human capabilities in and through higher education for more equality and justice. Her work considers dis/advantage, well-being and agency, addressing the complex challenges of inequalities. 

  • Professor Van de Peer’s research into gene prediction and genome annotation; comparative and evolutionary genomics; and systems biology, has placed him at the forefront of his field. He has a special interest in the evolution of genes and genomes, with an emphasis on gene and genome duplications. 

  • Professor Taylor’s research over the past several years has focussed on the pathway to the Square Kilometre Array science, in the area of cosmic magnetic field – primarily through exploration and the interpretation of the polarisation properties of the galaxy and of extragalactic radio sources. 

  • Dr Smith’s research focuses on the combination of field-generated geological and palaeontological data into reconstructions of ancient ecosystems. He has found, logged, excavated and accessioned more than 5 000 vertebrate fossils in the Karoo into South African national collections. 

  • Palaeontological research of fossils and sedimentary rocks in the Karoo sedimentary basin forms the foundation for Professor Rubidge’s work. He played a key role in establishing the Institute for Human Evolution, and then the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits, particularly the Palaeoscience Centre’s world-class fossil facilities. 

  • Researching the Middle and Later Stone Age in Africa, Professor Henshilwood’s ground-breaking discoveries have challenged accepted paradigms regarding the evolution of human behaviour, and imposed new standards on the analysis of prehistoric material culture. He has excavated more than 20 archaeological sites in southern Africa. 

  • With tuberculosis infecting over 1,7 billion people, causing disease in over 8 million people, and killing more than 2 million people every year, Professor Grosset has directed much of his research at finding ways in which to improve treatment and prevent the development of drug-resistant strains of the disease. 

  • Professor Finkelstein has dedicated a significant portion of his research career to the Mathematical Reliability Theory and its application to models of repair and maintenance, point processes, structural reliability, and stochastics in demography. His work has shed considerable light on vast areas in his field. 

  • Professor Engelbrecht’s research interests include swarm intelligence, evolutionary computation, neural networks, artificial immune systems, and the application of these paradigms to data mining, games, bioinformatics, finance, and difficult optimization problems.  

  • Professor Davé is a leading researcher in numerical studies of galaxy evolution, the intergalactic medium, large-scale structure, reionization and cosmology. Writing the world’s first parallel hydrodynamics code for galaxy formation is one of his many career highlights.  

  • Professor Abdool Karim is one of the world’s foremost medical and scientific authorities in the field of HIV and AIDS research, with ground-breaking contributions in understanding the evolution and impact of the HIV epidemic, while also fighting for the rights of those affected by HIV and AIDS.